Shared parental leave will give working parents more choice in how they care for their child in the first year after the child’s birth, including by enabling the father to take a greater parenting role where this suits the family’s circumstances.
Although the right to take shared parental leave and pay is being introduced for parents with children due on or after 5 April 2015, employers are likely to feel the impact of the legislation much sooner than this.
Employees who may be eligible for shared parental leave may start to tell their employer about their pregnancy as early as this summer, and may be keen to know more about their rights and duties.
We round up the eight steps employers can take now to prepare for shared parental leave.
1. Communicate about shared parental leave
The introduction of shared parental leave and pay marks a historic departure from the traditional assumption that the mother will be the primary carer and gives parents a real choice. It is a significant new employment right, so to ensure that employees are aware of it – and what they need to do if they want to benefit from the right – employers should inform employees about its introduction.
A communication exercise would be a good opportunity for the employer to demonstrate its support for flexibility for working parents, and to explain any enhanced benefits it offers to employees on shared parental leave.
2. Establish process on eligibility for shared parental leave and pay
To be entitled to take shared parental leave and pay, employees will need to meet minimum eligibility requirements, including a duration of employment test for both leave and pay and a minimum earnings requirement for shared parental pay.
Employers should have a process in place that allows them to calculate whether or not an employee meets the basic requirements. Currently, employers can use calculators to determine whether or not an employee has sufficient continuous service and meets the earnings requirement to qualify for statutory maternity pay.
3. Make a decision on enhanced benefits to employees on shared parental leave
Many employers already offer enhanced maternity pay to employees on statutory maternity leave. Employers will need to decide whether or not they will offer contractual benefits to those on shared parental leave.
One factor for organisations to bear in mind is that, if they offer enhanced shared parental pay, they are likely to be considered a good practice employer and may attract good candidates to the organisation.
They should also be aware of the risk of sex discrimination if they enhance benefits for employees on maternity leave but not for those on shared parental leave.
An XpertHR survey of 353 employers found that just over 20% of organisations think that the proposals on shared parental leave will have an effect on their maternity and paternity pay arrangements, other than the simple need to comply with the law.
Whether or not you plan to offer enhanced benefits, the payroll department will need to have structures in place to pay employees on shared parental leave the correct amount of shared parental pay.
4. Think about response to requests for multiple short periods of shared parental leave
Under the shared parental leave regime, employees will be able to intersperse periods of shared parental leave among periods of work where the employer approves the proposed pattern of leave and work. Employers should consider what approach they will take to requests for discontinuous periods of leave. They should think about how they will provide cover for the employee’s work in these circumstances and how they will monitor how much leave an employee has taken.
5. Consider requests from a couple who want simultaneous leave
Under the shared parental leave system, parents will be able to take leave at the same time. Employers should be prepared to deal with the situation where two employees in the same department are expecting a baby together and wish to take shared parental leave simultaneously.
6. Decide how to deal with notification requirements
Under shared parental leave regulations, employees will be required to comply with notice requirements, for example mothers will have to give notice to curtail their maternity leave. Notifications will need to include specified information. Employers may wish to draft model notification forms for employees to help them comply with the legal requirements, as well as model forms for the employer to respond to employees’ notices.
Regulations will specify when employees must give notice to their employer, so employers should consider what they can do to help employees comply with the timing requirements. Organisations can use a statutory maternity leave notification deadline calculator to calculate the last date on which an employee can inform her employer of her maternity plans.
7. Decide on approach to evidence of entitlement
Under shared parental leave regulations, employers will be able to ask an employee to provide evidence of his or her entitlement to shared parental leave, including details of the employer of the person with whom the employee wants to share the leave. Employers should decide what approach they will take to evidence requirements – for example, they may decide to accept what an employee says about his or her eligibility without requesting further evidence. Where employers intend to contact the other person’s employer, model letters to that employer can make life much easier for HR staff dealing with shared parental leave.
Employers should also think about how they will deal with requests for information from the other person’s employer – for example, who will deal with requests and how will they respond to them.
8. Train line managers on shared parental leave
In many organisations, managers will be the employee’s first port of call when notifying the organisation about their pregnancy. So that line managers can deal with such information, the employer will need to support them, including through training on shared parental leave and pay. Many employers currently provide their line managers with training on maternity rights and paternity rights.
Shared parental leave will give fathers the opportunity to take a greater role in the care of their child in the first year after the child’s birth, and training managers can help them to overcome any preconceptions they may have about men’s role in caring for their children. This is particularly important considering that employees who take shared parental leave will be protected against suffering a detriment for taking or seeking to take shared parental leave.